According to the San Bernardino Sun, here's how the controversy got started:
“When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence,” the assignment read. “For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual historical event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain. Based upon your research on this issue, write an argumentative essay, utilizing cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain. Remember to address counterclaims (rebuttals) to your stated claim. You are also required to use parenthetical (internal) citations and to provide a Works Cited page".
KTLA Channel 5 adds more information. They reported that the 18-page assignment instructions included three sources that students were told to use, including one that stated gassings in concentration camps were a hoax and that no evidence has shown Jews died in gas chambers. The sources were identified as biblebelievers.org.au and history.com and about.com.
As you can see, there was NO Holocaust denial promoted. The primary purpose was to develop critical thinking skills, as school board member Joe Martinez explained in his May 2nd statement to The Sun:
“One of the most important responsibilities for educators is to develop critical thinking skills in students. This will allow a person to come to their own conclusion. Current events are part of the basis for measuring IQ. The Middle East, Israel, Palestine and the Holocaust are on newscasts discussing current events. Teaching how to come to your own conclusion based on the facts, test your position, be able to articulate that position, then defend your belief with a lucid argument is essential to good citizenship. This thought process creates the foundation for a good education. The progression is within district board policy and also supports the district’s student inspired motto: ‘Today’s Scholars, Tomorrow’s Leaders.’"
As a result, no teachers, students or parents objected to the assignment. But that was not good enough for the ADL, and on Friday May 2nd, 2014, Matthew Friedman, associate regional director of the Los Angeles office of the ADL, issued the following statement by e-mail:
"It is ADL’s general position that an exercise asking students to question whether the Holocaust happened has no academic value; it only gives legitimacy to the hateful and anti-Semitic promoters of Holocaust denial". On their main website, the ADL issued a more moderate statement that was still critical of the District's effort. One person made a number of calls to police with some very specific death threats against district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri and interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam. The Associated Press claims the person communicating the threats may be white, but the media tends to consider Jews as white.
The District quickly caved in. On Sunday May 4th, district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri said that interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam will be talking with the Educational Services Department to assure that any references to the Holocaust "not occurring" will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research projects. Jafri added that the Holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration for the victims who endured the atrocities committed.
This, of course, means that only one version of the Holocaust can now be taught at the Rialto Unified School District.